Author: Seraphim Grace
Archive: www.Seraphim-grace.livejournal.com. Ao3 if you want it ask.
Feedback: Always appreciated and replied to.
Pairings: Crawfordx Ran others to be notfied later.
Warnings: historical AU
This chapter: none. Some innuendos.
Taking Aya back to Crawford’s house and then returning to the palace for his supper with the Empress seemed counter productive, so instead Ken was sent back with instructions to bring Naoe and robes fine enough to meet with her majesty. Crawford knew that Naoe, who was protective of Aya's beauty as if it was a belonging that he cherished and kept out of the reach of strangers and guests. It would give the boy an apoplectic fit if he thought that Aya might have to get into a divan to cross the city and crease his robes. So Ken returned to the Crawford house and came back with the boy, because it was just that much easier for everyone involved.
Fuji thought it was hilarious, sitting against a wall genuinely holding his side. “I wonder which one of you is the lord, Crawford, because Naoe’s word is law.”
Crawford did not look amused when he answered, around his cup of tea, “Naoe has been in my household since he was a suckling babe, perhaps I am over fond of him, but it is hard not to when you imagine that every winter might be his last, he has never been a strong boy.” Crawford looked tired which Aya found perplexing, for he knew that Crawford had slept like a babe the night before. Aya still ached from Crawford’s passion, but it was a good hurt, and one he found that he had missed, but one exacerbated by the long period in which Crawford had slept alone.
The thing which Aya shared with his master was as much spite as it was passion. Aya spoke up then, from his place beside his master, “would you not also trade the world for him, Fuji-kun?” it was a perfectly artless question, the sort of thing a silly girl might ask, and for a second Fuji was perplexed and then burst out laughing.
“My mistake, Aya," he said when he stopped, “you are right, Naoe is worth the world, and such tiny concerns are irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, but when he is grown and demands lands and a title, will you oblige him then?”
Crawford’s tone was completely bland when he said, “the Takatori lands are fair, perhaps they will best suit him.”
“Aniki," Fuji said with a closed eyed smile, “you do make me laugh. I, too, remember when Naoe was an infant, it does not seem so long ago, and now he secretly rules the world.” The eyes flashed open to show a sliver of blue, “it is good then that you did not acquiesce to his majesty when he asked you for him, he takes such pleasure in decorating our Aya-no-Bara that it is well that we did not give him all of Nihon to rule.”
Aya thought of the twin concubines of the Emperor, two boys barely older than Naoe with the cold look in their eyes that suggested that they were loved but that they had had no childhood in it's place. They were beautiful and educated and coddled, but young, and part of Aya twisted inside him when he thought about it. His hand idly found the anklet that Farfarello had clipped around his ankle, the one with the amber beads that jangled when he walked and filled the air with the lingering scent of frankincense.
He thought of Sena, who was barely four years old, running after Kimi with all the exuberance of that age, and climbing trees although he could not get back down, and felt ill to his core. Aya’s own first time had been violent and bloody and the thought of someone inflicting that on Sena made him rage. Then there was Ken, almost Aya’s own age, fourteen winters, untouched and somewhat ignorant despite the teasing of Saya and Maya.
But tellingly, the emperor’s concubines were not unhappy.
“Aya, are you well, you look like you’ve suddenly swallowed a sour pickle?” Fuji said, using a pick to lift one of the sweetmeats from the low table that sat between them. It was covered in the makings of tea and other small confections.
“Merely bitter thoughts," Aya shrugged it off. He wondered for a second what would have happened if he had been the one to catch the emperor’s eye, or Sano, because both were lovely enough. “The business this morning has given me a foul distemper, it tastes like indigestion in my throat.”
“You did a good job of it," Fuji said and then wiped at his mouth with a small square of cloth he had kept in the sash of his hakama, “although that never does make it a pleasant task, I am surprised, Crawford, that you let him do it.”
Crawford shrugged and lifted a slice of sugared peach, popping it into his mouth, “Omemie thought that our rose had no thorns, and now the court knows that he does. He would have been Daimyo, after all. If he cannot do something as simple as an execution then he would have failed his people, why should we let that be forgotten?” The sugar left a sticky sheen on his lips. “And besides, it reminded the Takatori that the Empress is no more to be underestimated than her husband, even if involving her was an accident.”
The previous summers peaches had been suspended in brandy and were now served sliced and covered with sugar, they made a pretty image on the plate. “She saved my sister.” Aya said quietly, “I am beholden to her even if she does not know it.”
Fuji snorted out a laugh, “she knows it.” He said. “She always knows. The Emperor manages the court by setting faction against faction, that way that are too busy fighting themselves to bother with him, the Empress, however, sets faction against faction simply because she can.”
“The Emperor promotes chaos to prevent the empire spiralling out of control, her highness does it because it's fun.”
“And I am to have supper with her this evening.” Aya said.
“Yes,” Fuji said, “rather you than me, but you have eaten with the Dragon, it can't be much worse than that.”
“The Dragon was a pleasant host." Aya shrugged, “he treated me like a princess of his house with every honour due that way, he was kind to Moon and Star, he was witty and charming. I would dine with him again in a heartbeat.” Crawford growled. “Oh, I am sorry, Master," Aya drawled sarcastically, "I forgot, I am only to be a Qin princess for you.”
“And yet you never were the princess for me." Crawford sounded bitter and angry.
Fuji laughed delightedly, “oh, aniki," he said at Crawford’s pained expression, “do you mean to tell me that you have not introduced our dear Aya to role play, and with his wardrobe..." he mocked rolled his eyes, “if you have no interest in that, perhaps ‘Mitsu and I.” Crawford threw his balled up napkin at Fuji, who was clearly teasing him. “I am just saying, ‘Mitsu would make a lovely shrine maiden.” This was said with his eyebrows waggling comically and Aya had to cover his mouth to laugh, the way that Hikarin taught him because courtesans did not openly laugh, it was declasse, but even Crawford laughed.
The door slid open and Saya knelt outside, in the almost year of their acquaintance Aya had learned to tell them apart although most of the household could not. Saya slightly cocked her head to the left where Maya cocked it to the right to present their perfect mirror image of each other. “Master," she said without entering, “Naoe has arrived, shall I send him in, he appears to be in something of a snit, he is complaining about notice.”
Fuji laughed again. “Naoe rules the world," he said and poured himself more tea, “the Empress is very inconsiderate if she doesn't realise this.”
“Then perhaps I should dress you for supper with her.” Naoe said appearing behind Saya with an expression that should, by all rights, curdle milk. He was dressed well enough that he himself could, at a moment's notice, sup with the Empress himself.
“Oh heaven’s no," Fuji said, “I do not have the legs for Aya’s geta.”
“Nor the beauty." Naoe said, reaching over to lift one of the slices of peach from it’s syrup of honey, sugar and brandy, before popping it into his mouth. It was not done, for a servant, even one so beloved as Naoe to do so, it said much of how the three men considered him that not one of them raised an eyebrow at his behaviour. For all that Naoe was officially a servant he was treated like Crawford’s heir. “I might be able to apply only a few strokes of cosmetics to make Aya the most beautiful girl in all of Nihon, but I do not have the time to arrange you, it is only six hours until supper after all.”
Crawford couldn't help but laugh. “I am glad that she did not require that I also attend." He said, “for the regime that Naoe uses to maintain Aya’s skin is harsh and my own skin can’t take it.”
“That is because Aya does not need to scrape a years worth of hair off his chin twice a day." Naoe said, “your gaijin roots betray you there, Master, for left unattended your face would surely resemble a bush. People would be unable to take you seriously unless they were searching for fruit amongst the branches.”
Crawford ran his hand over his chin, “yes, that is a burden that I must bear." He said, “but I know Aya is fond of the prickle of my stubble against the inside his thighs.”
Aya blushed as bright as his hair proving the statement true.
"It is because we keep him so hairless." Naoe said, “the skin is more sensitive that way, but the rash that your stubble causes on his fair skin is not so welcome.” He gave Crawford a glare, “for after all he has no idea how to soothe it and then I am the one with my head between his legs.” He paused for a moment, “and considering how much maintaining such a beauteous courtesan must cost I am surprised how often it is that I am between his thighs and not you personally.”
Fuji could not restrain the laugh that erupted out of him. Naoe did not care for that for his brow furrowed. Aya looked like he might die of embarrassment. Naoe batted Aya’s thigh, “stop blushing, it will give you pimples." He chided, “and if you have a break out in front of the empress I might have to commit ritual suicide.”
“Then let us change the subject." Crawford said, with a hint of steel in his tone, “how is the contest for Ken’s affections going?”
At that Naoe offered a small and rather cruel smile. “It remains amusing," he said.
“Ken is oblivious.” Fuji said quietly. “He thinks that the three of them are befriending him and every time one of them offers him an attempt at wooing he continues on. Yohji offered to take him to Noh, but he thought that Aya wouldn't like it. Schuldig offered to take him to a tea house. He doesn't like tea. Farfarello just follows him and offers to carry things. There is talk of a few others here at court trying to join the pot.”
Aya was still trying to regain his composure. “As long as he is willing.”
“Oh they know,” Naoe said, “they know the rules and seem to find them amusing, it makes it more of a challenge. There was talk of the Emperor himself sending for him, to win the pot more than anything because I don't think he has even seen Ken, but the idea that he has to be wooed intrigues them. It makes it harder, they are used to servants assuming the position." There was no bitterness in his tone when Naoe spoke so frankly of these things, just honesty. “The pot is now nearly five ryu.” Crawford blinked. That was a lot of money, enough to maintain five retainers for a year. “Entry is a single gold dragon. And he has no idea whatsoever that they are attempting that.”
“who is?” Crawford offered.
“The Dragon, the Emperor, Lord Akechi, Lady Hanajima, but mostly I think because she thinks it's fun, she is devoted to her studies but..." he shrugged. “She has invited Ken around to help with her garden, that could be why, Hanajima-onmyoji is terrifying and very manipulative. A few of the greater guard, two negotiators and another onmyoji, Asami-onmyoji, but that’s probably because the Dragon is involved.”
“I should end this." Aya said.
“Ken has no idea?” Crawford asked.
“None,” Fuji said, “you should have seen his face when the Dragon approached him. He was in full regalia with attendants and the only thing he was lacking was a musical accompaniment, he told Ken that he was beautiful and wanted to see him stretched out across his futon. To which Ken replied.”
Naoe finished. “But I sleep with Naoe and Sena.”